ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Maryland football had a chance to emerge on the national scene and earn a program-defining win against No. 4 Michigan on Saturday afternoon. In its previous six contents against the Wolverines, Michigan had outscored Maryland by 202 points.
This game, however, was not one of the lopsided Maryland losses of previous meetings as the Terps trailed by just one score with six and a half minutes remaining.
Maryland was marching down the field looking for a touchdown and a two-point conversion, hoping it could tie the game and potentially pull off a historic upset.
However, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw an interception down the right sideline, handing the ball back to Michigan at a crucial point in the fourth quarter.
Michigan capitalized with another touchdown, erasing any hope of a Maryland upset as it ultimately fell to the Wolverines, 34-27.
The “next step” is a phrase Locksley uses frequently when discussing the direction he envisions Maryland football heading. The “next step” for a program that won its first bowl game in over a decade last season is competing with the best teams in the conference.
On Saturday, Maryland showed it has the talent to compete with the Big Ten’s best.
“I liked out effort by our team, we played for four quarters. I’d like to see us not give good teams the opportunities that we gave Michigan, and they took advantage of it,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “But definitely a step in the right direction for our program.”
Although Maryland received the opening kickoff, it took Michigan all of eight seconds to score the first touchdown and ignite a rowdy crowd in Ann Arbor.
Sophomore wide receiver Tai Felton was back to receive the kickoff, but the ball hit Felton’s helmet instead of his hands. Michigan recovered it and one play later was in the end zone for a 7-0 lead before Maryland’s sideline could blink.
With a clean kickoff on the ensuing drive, Tagovailoa led Maryland down the field before kicker Chad Ryland lined up for a 53-yard field goal. Ryland connected on the kick for his longest field goal as a Terp.
Michigan responded with a field goal of its own before Tagovailoa strutted back on the field trailing by a touchdown. Maryland marched down the field for a 13-play, 75-yard drive that lasted just under six minutes.
One of the Terps’ most impressive offensive drives of the season was punctuated by a two-yard rush from redshirt freshman running back Antwain Littleton II into the end zone, silencing the sea of maize and blue fans that filled the “Big House,” and knotting the game at 10 apiece.
At the tail end of the first quarter, Maryland’s defense redeemed its early special teams turnover by forcing a Michigan fumble as the Wolverines were pacing down the field.
Tagovailoa and the clicking Terps offense started the second frame with the ball. Maryland once again drove down the field and put points on the board with Ryland knocking in another field goal, this time from 52 yards, to give Maryland a 13-10 lead, its first lead in a game against Michigan since 2018.
The Terps offense looked dominant midway through the second quarter, particularly Tagovailoa, who delivered difficult dimes all over the field and made the right reads. That was until a Tagovailoa pass over the middle of the field was intercepted. The interception appeared to clearly hit the ground before it was corralled in by Michigan’s defender, but the play was not reviewed, handing the ball back to the Wolverines.
Michigan failed to capitalize on Maryland’s misfortune, as Wolverine kicker Jake Moody missed a 43-yard field goal, maintaining the Terps’ three-point advantage.
Maryland had possession with over two and a half minutes remaining in the first half, looking to build on its lead before the intermission. However, a three-and-out gave Michigan the ball back. Wolverine running back Blake Corum ran for 33 yards into the end zone with 20 seconds remaining in the half, giving Michigan a 17-13 lead at the break.
Maryland suffered a huge scare midway through the third quarter when Tagovailoa dropped back to pass and took a huge hit to his rib cage as he was releasing the ball. Tagovailoa stayed down on the field in pain for a few minutes before walking off the field on his volition.
Tagovailoa only missed one play and returned on the following drive.
Both offenses went stale in the third quarter with neither team producing any points in the 15 minutes of action.
That changed quickly when Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy connected with receiver Roman Wilson for a touchdown to start the fourth quarter, extending Michigan’s lead to 11.
Maryland countered with a 10-play drive capped off by a Tagovailoa touchdown pass to Felton. Trailing by five with just over nine minutes remaining, the Terps attempted a two-point conversion but failed to convert.
Tagovailoa’s interception followed by Michigan’s touchdown to extend its lead to 15 secured Maryland’s fate. Tagovailoa did not return to the game following his interception because he was “banged up” with a knee and rib injury, according to Locksley. Quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. replaced him and led a touchdown drive, but a failed onside kick with under a minute to go sealed the game.
Locksley said they will know more when Tagovailoa gets “checked out” in the coming days.
The Terps lost to a ranked Big Ten team for the 29th consecutive game and moved to 3-1 on the season.
“I can’t dwell on this game. As a team we can’t dwell on this game because we’ve got another great opportunity next week against a good Michigan State team,” Locksley said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland cleaned up its penalty issue quickly. Coming off an SMU performance that featured 15 penalties on Maryland, the discipline of Locksley’s group was questioned. Just one week later, the Terps completely eliminated their penalty plague. Maryland did not commit a single penalty in the first half and finished the game with just one. Its great discipline was in large part due to a phenomenal and clean performance from the offensive line, which played its best game of the season in both pass and run protection.
“A big emphasis was to just kind of shift the focus to being a more discipline team, which we are, which coach preaches all the time. I feel like we did a good job with that today,” senior offensive lineman Spencer Anderson said.
2. Despite the loss, Maryland showed it can compete with the best this season. For the past few seasons, the narrative surrounding Maryland football is a program that gets off to a fast start to the season before it runs into a quality Big Ten opponent, when the Terps are decimated and often embarrassed. Taking the “next step” as a program — a phrase Locksley constantly alludes to — means competing against the best teams in the conference, including Michigan. Despite losing to the defending Big Ten champions on Saturday, the Terps showed its talent is not too far behind a team that is ranked No. 4 nationally and has dominated Maryland in recent matchups.
“The moral victories of coming close and all of that, man, that’s not what we’re about,” Locksley said.
3. Maryland’s front seven couldn’t handle Michigan’s running game. The Wolverines’ offensive success came on the ground more than in the air. Michigan’s quarterback J.J. McCarthy is a highly-touted player and has been impressive so far in his young career. But on Saturday, the ground game was clicking for the Wolverines. The weakest part of Maryland’s defense is its front seven, and it showed, as Michigan’s running back Corum ran for 243 on 30 carries yards against the Terps. Linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II was injured against SMU last week and did not make the trip to Michigan, which exacerbated an already poor rushing defense.
“He’s [Corum] definitely a good running back,” senior defensive back Jakorian Bennett said. “He runs powerful, he’s shifty. He did a lot of good things.”